Election Day 2018

The 2018 mid-term election is finally here. Like most of you, I can’t wait for the cessation of political advertising. The campaign season has not revealed our best selves, but our worst. It leaves me with the feeling in my gut like I’ve just done something or seen something shameful. We can’t blame the politicians for this completely. We’re the ones who respond to the fear mongering, the tribalism, and misinformation of a campaign season far too long for anyone’s good.

Beyond the campaign itself, tomorrow’s election will be claimed as a victory for some and a loss for others. The losers will cry out over the state of the union, and the victors will declare that their vision, and even manipulative tactics, have been vindicated, even endorsed. Neither response will be true. As divided as we are, the results of the election are likely to leave all of us losers, because the gridlock and incivility that have become habits will still rule.

That said, we must vote. It is a civil responsibility for every citizen. People have died for your right to vote. It dishonors their sacrifice to discard your duty. All the rhetoric I hear that demonizes the “government,” that makes “government a necessary evil” or worse, the enemy, is cynical to the point of evil. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressman and government officials, but the voters of this country.”

As a Christian, we have a spiritual duty as well. Some folks think that separation of church and state means that Christians should leave faith at home and not bring it into the public square. That’s nonsense since the separation only applies to the government’s establishment of religion, not my application of faith to my citizenship. God works through the imperfect rule of government to sustain order and some modicum of justice and peace. The “left hand” kingdom of this world is still part of Divine providence, even if not an eternal one. Cyrus of Persia was seen as an instrument of God’s deliverance of God’s people, even though he worshipped other gods. Luther is credited with saying that he would “rather have a just Turk (Muslim) for a ruler than an unjust Christian.”

As Christians head to the ballot box, I think there are a few things we should remember. First, it says in Philippians 3:20, “our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul means that while we have citizenship in some nation (he was a Roman citizen), our primary, our ultimate citizenship is not to a nation that will pass away but to a reign, initiated in Christ, that will not. That means, for me, that my allegiance to Christ stands above, and sometimes against, my allegience to party and nation.

Second, we should never make the mistake of thinking that the candidate we are selecting is ordained by God or some manifestation of the truth. Government on this earth is always fallible and broken. There are no leaders who are saviors or our superiors. Democracy does not establish elected kings. As C.S. Lewis says, “The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.”

Third, no one we elect will save us. No one we elect will ruin us. Only God has those powers. In the end, God will prevail. That means that the reign of God revealed in Jesus Christ is what will ultimately come to pass. This reign cares for the poor, establishes peace, reconciles people, brings enemies together and sacrifices for the sake of neighbor. Seek candidates who do these things.

When I vote, I give my vote away, because that’s what Jesus teaches. By this I mean that I will not allow my own fear and self-interest to sway me – no matter how hard the candidates try to scare me. Freed in Christ, I use my vote to vote with those who have the least power, the smallest voice, and the biggest struggles. If I pray for the sick, imprisoned, oppressed, hungry and hated, then I have to vote with them.

May God grant us peace in the face of change – or the lack of it. May this election somehow, someway move us toward our better selves.

copyright © 2018, Timothy V. Olson

All Are Welcome. Really?

I’m going to guess that “All Are Welcome” is the most frequently used slogan on church signs, banners, brochures and bulletins. Up until a couple of weeks ago, the worn out sign on the east side of the sanctuary here declared this worn out message. Now it doesn’t. It says (provisionally) “You Are Welcome, No Matter What”

I have grown suspicious of the church’s announcement that “all are welcome” because frankly, in so many ways it is untrue. One man once told me that “Of course, gay & lesbian people are welcome here. All are welcome. We just don’t want to publicize that because too many of them might show up.” Very welcoming, don’t you think? I asked a call committee once how “all are welcome” played itself out given they were a white congregation in a black community. They replied, “Well, they have their church, we have ours.”

Mostly I have spent lots of time up front watching us “welcome” all. The signs and bulletins declare welcome.  But the “back row folks” are not so sure.  They come to worship late. They leave early. They avoid eye contact. I watch as they look around simultaneously hoping that someone notices them and that no one does. These folks know that “all” are welcome, but are certain that it does not apply to them. They are divorced, addicted, suffering from depression, just lost a job, grieving. They are sure that we Christians never have bad things happen to us. Or they are part of a group always at the edges of culture, sure that once you see the tatoo, find out their sexuality, or meet the mixed race family, the welcome will fade.

Too often, “all are welcome” carries the unspoken condition, “as long as you are like us.” Too often it does not address the particularity of the human situation that comes in the door seeking hope. Broken folks out side and inside the church, assume they are not welcome. We don’t even believe “all are welcome” applies to us. Just notice how hard it is for church members to let others see their hurts and brokenness. We believe that if you really knew us, you wouldn’t welcome us.

Jesus never seemed to speak in generalities and slogans. Jesus said to a dead man, “Lazarus, Come out!” (John 11:43)  As he encountered Mary at the tomb, he said, “Mary!” and her eyes were opened. (John 20:16) In the Lord’s Supper, each person receives bread and wine with the singular pronouncement: “given for you.” It takes more than three words on a sign and a throw away slogan to truly welcome someone. The welcome is extended one interaction at a time. We can’t become the people God calls us to be with just words.  We will never emulate God’s reign of welcome as long as women are “welcomed” and treated as second class citizens; as long as our communities do not reflect the racial and ethic diversity of the community; as long as we keep excluding people from grace because of their sexuality.

Our congregation is right now working on how we can speak more clearly to the diverse people and real struggles of this world with gospel language that is real. We are working to develop a statement of inclusion that names the particularities of the human experience. The statement we develop will not be just a slogan, but a word that demands accountability to make it real.  It is too early to share any drafts of what we might say as a congregation, but I will offer a rather humorous – but effective example I came across:

WELCOME!

All are welcome here. But, we extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, lesbian, transgender, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.

We endorse all people but we make it a point not to promote any particular politician. If you need a church that does or a minister who screams and yells from the Ambo about how everybody who doesn’t believe as he believes (or, she believes) is going to hell… well, you’re probably not going to like this church. Here, you can be Democrat, Republican, Independent… heck, even a Socialist. You’ll understand, we’re sort of struck with Jesus and, especially, his teachings. The way we figure it — if we follow his teachings, the world will be a happier and healthier place for everybody. Healthier and happier, too, for those not interested in religion, not even ours.

If you blew all your offering money last night at the dog track, tough luck for us. You’re still welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … In short, we welcome you!

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-mcswain/now-this-is-a-church-i-co_b_1868351.html

Let’s say what we mean, and do what we say. To genuinely welcome is God’s action in the world.

 

copyright © 2018, Timothy V. Olson

 

Thinking

“Yes, the mind can tell left from right, but it cannot perceive invisible things such as love, eternity, fear, wholeness, mystery or the Divine. Yes, the mind is good at thinking. But so much so that most humans, like Decartes, think the are their thinking.” – Richard Rohr

The Truth

“It is an arrogance that allows Christians to so believe that their mental understanding of things is anywhere close to that of Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the Truth” (John 14:6) I think the intended effect is this: If Jesus is the Truth, then you probably aren’t.” – Richard Rohr

Prayer

“”prayer” has often been trivialized by making it a way of getting what you want… It is not a technique for getting things, a pious exercise that somehow makes God happy, or a requirement for entry into heaven. It is much more like practicing heaven now.” – Richard Rohr